Spiera, Francesco

Spiera, Francesco an Italian in the days of the Reformation who abjured the Evangelical faith, which he had for a time professed, and then became the prey of remorseful despair until he died. The history of his lapse and sufferings excited immense interest, and acquaintance with the circumstances of the case caused at least one conversion, that of Paul Vergerius (q.v.). Various observers recorded the facts, among them Vergerius, Dr. M. Gribaldus, professor of civil law at Padua, Dr. Henricus Scotus, and Dr. Sigismund Gelous, professor of philosophy at Padua, whose reports are yet extant, and form the basis of older and more recent German revisions of the story. The latest are Roth, F. Spiera's Lebensende (Nuremberg, 1829); and Sixt, in Petrus Paulus Vergerius (Brunswick, 1855), p. 125-160.

Spiera was a jurist and attorney in the little town of Citadella, near Padua, excessively avaricious and capable of employing the most disreputable measures to secure his ends, and none the less possessed of talent and eloquence. He acquired a considerable fortune, and rose to prominent position among his neighbors. He was also happily married, and the father of eleven children. In about 1542, when about forty-four years of age, he was awakened, and began to repent of his worldliness. At this precise juncture the Reformation began to assert itself with vigor in Italy, and Spiera heard the message of salvation through the death of Christ. It filled him with transcendent joy, and under its impulse he felt constrained to declare to others the riches of salvation, that they might partake of similar felicities. He had faith, and also feeling, the highest enjoyment of faith; he was accordingly in danger of confounding faith with the subjective feelings, and of neglecting a moral appropriation to himself of the atonement as actualized by faith. In point of fact, he seems to have been more concerned to proclaim the good news to others than to regulate his life by the knowledge he had obtained. To qualify himself to preach, he gave himself to an incessant study of the Scriptures, assisted by ancient and modern theological books; and soon afterwards he proclaimed the new doctrine in every part of the little town. It is remarkable that he preached, on the one hand, the doctrine of justification by faith in the merits of Christ without meritorious works, and, on the other, protested against the errors and abuses of the Romish Church, but that he did not emphasize the doctrine of repentance. He seems never to have clearly apprehended the need of repentance, and while rejoicing in his spiritual ecstasies and intent on the conversion of others, he continued for himself the old sinful practices without much change from his earlier habits. His course produced much excitement and gained him many followers, so that the influence of the village priests was greatly impaired, and they were induced, about six months after Spiera's entrance on his new career, to lay charges against him before the legate Della Casa at Venice. The latter at once proceeded in the case by the hearing of a number of witnesses, and assured himself of the cooperation of the counsel for the State, and Spiera at once lost heart. He had never experienced a real conflict with his old self, and was not qualified to enter on this conflict unto death. He hastened to present himself before the legate, even before he was summoned, and when required signed a revocation of everything he had taught in opposition to the Church, together with a plea for forgiveness. He was then compelled to return to his home and read in the Church a prescribed formula of abjuration, which he did on Sunday, in the presence of more than two thousand people, and was fined thirty ducats, of which five were given to the priest.

Immediately on Spiera's return to his house the terrors of the judgment and eternal perdition came upon his soul, even to the prostrating of his physical strength. He could not leave his bed, and lost his appetite for food, though a raging thirst tormented him. After six months he was taken to Padua, where three leading physicians took him in charge, and a number of learned and pious men ministered to his soul. Every endeavor was in vain, and as the case was exciting too much interest in Padua, he was taken back to his home, where he continued to reject food except as physical force compelled him to receive it, and often sought to lay violent hands on himself. The ingenuity he had cultivated in the perversion of his legal practice now returned to plague him, and prevented him from deriving comfort from the promises of the Gospel. He believed himself to have committed the sin against the Holy Ghost, and declared that God had reprobated him, so that none of the promises were for him. The intolerable sense of his sin at times caused him to roar like a beast; but it is apparent that he found it easier to give way to despair than to repent — a possible indication that he found a certain satisfaction in his sufferings. The Romish religionists who sought to give rest to his mind, and the superstitious practitioners who thought that exorcisms and dead saints might heal his malady, probably intensified the mischief, as Melancthon already observed; at any rate, Spiera experienced no relief, and died in convulsions of despair in the autumn of 1548. See Herzog, Real-Encyklop. s.v.

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